An informative interview with Tom Fleury, Co-founder of Proactive Business Network, and Principal of Executive Management & Business Care, LLC
Mr. Fleury has extensive process re-engineering and business development experience, and has been active in the entrepreneurial space for over 20 years. He is currently working with Small Business USA developing opportunities for new and existing businesses in identifying who they uniquely are in the market and helping them establish a path to high growth.
Tom is a noted business problem solver, business mentor and leader of several business owners groups. We dove into what makes Tom tick, what he is involved with and what kind of business help he provides.
ROB: Tom, thank you for taking time from your busy schedule for this interview.
TOM: It's my pleasure. I appreciate the opportunity to answer any questions you have and for any chance to help the business community.
ROB: You worked with many entrepreneurs, startups and executives helping them connect-the-dots in their businesses. Briefly explain what that means.
TOM: Too often business people go it alone and, as the saying goes, they wear many hats. One of the things in which I pride myself is the ability to view and hear business owners from their exact perspective – not from mine. As I look out through their eyes and listen from their vantage point, I quickly learn how they think and how they communicate. Once I understand all this I can easily figure out how best to get them to do the things they should do and avoid the things they shouldn’t. I enable them to better market themselves by connecting them efficiently and effectively with the proper resources, people, events, etcetera – the dots, so to speak - that match their exact needs in the way they’ll best utilize them.
ROB: Besides financial resources, what are common stumbling blocks you come across for startups and small businesses?
TOM: Marketing, sales and marketing! Once in a while it’s an employee issue but it tends to be 85% marketing and the remainder mostly sales.
ROB: If you could give only 1 or 2 words of advice for budding entrepreneurs or small business owners, what would that be?
TOM: Find out the true reason why someone would pull a Benjamin out of their pocket, for your goods or services, and say “thank you” at the same time! If you cannot tell your customer why you are different and allow them to want what they can’t have, then you are toast. I fix these kinds of issues.
ROB: So, discovering the key differentiator is very important, and it makes sense to avoid being a “me too” business. Where or how should a start-up or small business start to find their uniqueness and communicate that effectively?
TOM: Usually they know this intrinsically at the onset. Two problems occur, however. The first one is they tend to be unable to communicate that uniqueness effectively so their customers can understand it and realize that they are the services they want or the place to purchase their goods. Right out of the gate, the marketing message is blurred.
Second, the lucky ones will get this right in the first place. However, once they get going and sales start to slow, and they will, the owner will stray from their original passion, tend to panic and the unique reason they started the business becomes a distant memory. At this point, any marketing message will appear attractive and their communications not only becomes muddled, it becomes lost.
One of the things I do is to cement that message and force them to put their unique trait in writing so the owner can step back and ask, “Would this business do this thing or do that?” It allows the owner to reflect on the base from which he began. One can measure your customer reactions and market changes against that base and make changes that are appropriate – not a random throw-stuff-on-the-wall kind of approach. The spaghetti on the wall is what gets most small businesses in trouble.
ROB: You are currently putting together exciting groups of peer advisors, or boards. Tell us about that.
TOM: Small businesses tend to go it alone. Even if I work with them one-on-one, they tend to lapse back into their old ways if I am not there, and no one can be there with them every waking moment of their business lives. These groups, or Small Business Boards, are meant to do a number of things.
For example, the boards allow people to get perspectives from other business owners who are not in their line of work. This fresh, experienced perspective is often times eye-opening and valuable for members.
Our Small Business Boards provide a 52 week, full boots-on-the-ground, top-notch, supportive marketing program. It tells the marketing story from a customer or consumer perspective, with not a hint of Corporate or Academia to confuse folks. It’s the real thing. All my members have gained insight from just the first several dozen classes.
Members also enjoy valuable exchanges and interactions with other like-minded professionals, who are also their peer group, holding each other accountable to their selected goals. Each group offers unique expertise, which is extremely valuable for business owners.
ROB: How do you structure these groups to ensure there are unique skill sets and experiences? Is membership to a board selected based on missing expertise in that group?
TOM: I started these boards for one reason: marketing assistance for small businesses. I knew that this was the most common problem and one that, when I was not working daily or weekly with the owner, it was an area they tended to ignore.
Everyone in the group brings at least their field of expertise to the table. They also bring a unique perspective that helps others with whatever problem or opportunity they wish to explore. I only have one of each business type and, for now, businesses that were successful to at least some point as members. Now that I have my feet wet, I can include budding entrepreneurs as I now know how to bring them into the fold, so to speak. It requires a bit more work up front but I found out how to do this effectively so they are not intimidated or afraid to share what is on their minds.
What has happened is they, one by one, find there is something else that they need to do in their business. Over time, you can see the improvements, the problems solved and you see how they improve how they actually run their operations. The process pulls them above the water line and they work on the business versus working in it.
ROB: I would imagine that you would quickly run out of bandwidth doing what you do if it was strictly one-on-one. Was this one of the drivers for establishing the Small Business Boards?
TOM: Yes and no. The demand was and is high for focused, experienced, no-nonsense mentorship and problem solving. However, these boards are structured, at times fun and they are an engaging format that allows me to help more businesses by utilizing more resources – the other businesses. I absolutely love seeing and hearing my members sharing their perspectives. Though I pride myself in being able to get into the seat of an owner and viewing the world as he sees it, if I can get that owner to share his perspective without me prodding him or her, then the value is many fold and the other members reap that insight.
ROB: What sized businesses are the right fit and what's the commitment?
TOM: Small businesses that are under a million dollars in annual sales are probably the best for what I do. It’s inexpensive considering other roundtable organizations charge thousands per month. There is a modest time commitment, easily incorporated into the busy schedules of business owners. There is a two hour meeting once a month, an hour or so of study per week, and one-on-one coaching with me several times a year.
ROB: In closing out our time today, how would you summarize the Tom Fleury experience?
TOM: My past clients know I tend to get the best out of folks by applying my background and over 40 years of experience. If there is one element of my brand that has been tested and proven, and that stands above others, it is this: I am a problem solver. If you need to figure out how to reinvent yourself, figure out a good business model, find your uniqueness, or revive your marketing and sales, you should be in the same room as me. I really love solving business problems and I get excited with every opportunity to demonstrate that ability, especially because it means that business is back on track and poised for great success.
For more information about Tom Fleury, connect with Tom on LinkedIn. Mr. Fleury may also be reached directly via e-mail at EM.BC@cox.net.
Executive Management & Business Care is a business advisory and mentoring service provider.
Proactive Business Network is a multimedia production company.
Small Business USA is a community of entrepreneurs and consultants working together to support your goals.
Digital Marketing Partner is a full-service digital marketing firm based in Connecticut.
Robert Kwasnicki is the founder of Digital Marketing Partner and YEW Talks, former candidate for Connecticut's 59th General Assembly district, member of the 501(c)3 PNH Founders Scholarship Fund board of directors, Vice President of the national historical landmark, Polish National Home of Hartford, and a keynote speaker on entrepreneurship, campaigning and marketing.
Rob was recently featured on Innovation Destination Hartford.